1 December 2017 – 4 February 2018
The University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, is delighted to present Ifugao Sculpture: Expressions in Philippine Cordillera Art, an exhibition of tribal art and culture. Rarely shown in such a large group display, both figurative sculptures and ritual boxes exemplify the talent of artists from the Ifugao, Bointoc and Kankanaey tribes in the Northern Luzon region of the Philippines.
Fascinated by the decidedly modern and abstract style of these carved 19th- and 20th-century sculptures, the exhibition takes an artistic rather than an anthropological approach, highlighting the aesthetics of the displayed artworks rather than signifying them as ‘ethnic markers’ (Delfin Tolentino Jr.) or religious tools. Both the bulul figures and boxes are deeply connected to cultural rituals, while they present abstract expressions from a group of talented tribal artists. One of the essays in the exhibition catalogue draws comparisons with other tribal arts and describes their influence over modern Western artists, such as the Russian Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), the Romanian Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) and the French artist George Braque (1882–1963). This claim is based on visual comparisons and it is each object’s physical structure, design value and international character that we wish to highlight in the current exhibition.
In Ifugao culture there are thousands of gods affiliated with various aspects of everyday life. Most outstanding—both physically and literally—are the bulul that are carved as either sitting or standing figures and, less commonly, as dancers. Their responsibility is the protection of the rice fields, and their presence is believed to multiply both the crops and harvest. The exhibition will also show an outstanding collection of ceremonial and functional boxes and bowls, and is prepared in cooperation with the Hong Kong AsianArt:Future, a collection specialising in contemporary and antique Asian Art. We are also grateful to the Philippine Consulate General for their generous support of this rare public exhibition.